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Month: February 2017

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

We arrived in Delhi with one goal in mind – to make it to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the famous ivory-white masoleum completed in 1653. Before arriving in India we did some research, consulted a lot of travel blogs, and crafted a plan for seeing the Taj Mahal. We would take the train to Agra in the morning (location of the Taj), see the Taj Mahal, stay the night in Agra, and take the train back to Delhi the next morning. Other travelers have had a good experience with trains in India and they are relatively safe when compared to driving the same route since the roads are not great in India (this news story a month before we arrived did not totally make us comfortable (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38041755), but we were ready for the adventure nonetheless! Side note: All of the good photos in this blog were taken by Scott and all the rest were taken by my phone 🙂

Photo credit: Scott

To Train or Not to Train and the Great Delhi Fog

The Indian train system is really confusing and tickets tend to sell out in advance…naturally even with this knowledge we did not plan ahead. The online ticketing system is the most frustrating thing we have ever used (props to Scott for trying so hard) and we ended up needing to make a visit to the Delhi Train Station either way. We ended up with round-trip tickets to Agra 3rd class for the next day. We would have liked to go 1st or 2nd class, but we are no divas! We started to do some thinking and more research…maybe we aren’t as adventurous as some of these travel bloggers. We aren’t total divas, but we also value our space, safety, and relative comfort. Maybe we made a mistake. As we started to backtrack, I also started to feel sicker by the minute. It was really terrible timing to come down with a virus. Our train tickets ended up going unused and we hired a driver to take us to Agra to see the sites and then drive us back to Delhi. I had read that this time of year there could be VERY dense fog and it can delay trains, planes, and cars. Of course I assumed that it would not be a problem for us.

Our driver picked us up at 6 am sharp. He told us the drive should take 2.5-4 hours depending on the fog. This was the first red flag, but I continued to think that the journey would be like any other. Around 30 minutes into our trip we experienced the dense, thick Delhi fog that occurs this time of year. It was terrifying. You could not see anything. All the cars put on their flashers to drive through, but you could only see about 5 feet in any direction. The fog was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was ready to ask the driver to pull over and wait it out the next few hours, but he insisted that he did this all the time and reassured us that he knew was he was doing (our driver was awesome!). After 4 hours of intense anxiety (maybe I was the only one panicking, but that is besides the point) we had arrived in Agra and were at the Taj Mahal!

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The Taj

As we walked up to the Taj Mahal, it looked like a backdrop to a movie and it hardly looked real. Even with the hoards of people when we arrived it was really incredible. Entering the Taj Mahal was overwhelming so we were very thankful we had a guide to help us get tickets and navigate the security lines. There is a line for Indians and a line for foreigners — the foreigners line was much shorter than the line for Indians, but the tickets cost about 25 times more. This causes a bit of frustration among backpackers in India, but it is what it is. We did get to skip the line to get into the Taj Mahal that all of the Indians had to wait in, were given free shoe covers, and a free water bottle. The Indian tourists did not have any of these luxuries. It did make us feel a bit bad skipping the lines, but we did pay an outrageous amount in comparison to the Indian tourists.

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Our guide told us that it was unusually crowded the day we went and there was people everywhere. If this trip has taught me anything it would be some serious patience. Also, our guide turned out to be a very enthusiastic Iphone photographer who would not let us leave without taking all of the perfect shots. At times he even told others to move out of the way so he could get the shot…it was a bit embarrassing, but I glad that we don’t have only a selfie (they just aren’t as good as a real photo).

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This is embarrassing…

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We put on our shoe coverings to be able to actually walk into the Taj Mahal since no shoes are allowed. It was unexpected that for a building that looks so big from the outside that it is surprisingly small inside — it is basically just two tombs inside. That is all. Although it was not big it was awesome to walk inside and be able to look at all the details such as carvings and all of the white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.IMG_1543

Agra Fort

In addition to the Taj Mahal, we also made it to the Agra Fort (which admittedly I had never heard of until we went). It is an amazing red sandstone fort built in 1573 and it is beautiful in an entirely different way. I am glad we made the stop here, but I was equally glad to be getting back on the road for Delhi. We arrived back at our hotel around 9 pm – it was a really long day.

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The Taj Mahal was stunning. I am so grateful we had the opportunity to see it in person. I am also grateful we did not have to brave the Indian train system, especially while I was sick. Will I ever go back? Probably not. Some things should just be left at once in a lifetime and for me this is one of those things.

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Melbourne Recap

Melbourne Recap

We were not in Melbourne recently — I am just really behind. Since we left Australia we have visited India, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe. Whoops. Be on the lookout for more posts to come, but for now here is a recap of our time in December when we went to Melbourne!

The whole point of going to Melbourne was to rest up before heading to India. That was a mistake…we love Melbourne and couldn’t just sit around all day and rest! Melbourne is a really cool city and one that we could see ourselves living in if it was a little closer to our side of the globe.

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Places Visited

 Melbourne (and the Great Ocean Road)

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Things We Liked

 Street art, culture, availability of things we need, Queen Victoria Market, good ramen, food, walkable, English, good coffee, and pretty places!

We liked Melbourne more than Sydney…it had more culture and personality to it. It was a bit rough around the edges, but in the best way possible.

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Mussel stand at Queen Victoria Market that I could eat at everyday for the rest of my life.

Things We Disliked

Expensive city and bugs (on our Great Ocean Road journey some of the stops were not as enjoyable as they looked because of so many flies). Everything else was alright to us 🙂

We left the car to take a picture and this is how it looked when we returned...so many bugs!
We left the car to take a picture and this is how it looked when we returned — so many bugs! There was an equal amount all around us and everyone else around. I almost did not want to get out of the car after a while.

Highlights

 1. The Twelve Apostles and The Great Ocean Road

We rented a car (since we are experts at driving on the left now) to drive the Great Ocean Road. It reminded us a lot of Highway 1 in California and we enjoyed stopping frequently along the way to take pictures. We even got to see some wild koalas! The highlight was the Twelve Apostles. When we first arrived there it had just started to pour. It was so gray and did not show any signs of letting up in the next hour or so before the sun was supposed to set. We were pretty disappointed, but took some pictures anyway. We moved on to see some other beautiful stops just a few minutes more up the road. As we were checking out the other spots the rain stopped and the sun peaked through enough to enjoy sunset at the Twelve Apostles. It was gorgeous and was one of those, “I can’t believe we are actually here” moments!

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2. Movie Night

We went to the movies to see La La Land and the whole night was one of our favorites. We love going to the movies and this whole trip we kept saying we should go and never did until New Zealand when we finally made it to the movies and realizing how much we really loved it. The movie was fantastic (although we were almost scared off because it was a musical) and we would highly recommend it! We got ramen afterwards at one of the most well known ramen shops (ramen two nights in a row — we might have a problem). It was so simple, but this night made us super happy and we have decided to go see a movie once a month in the future (at home too)!

Photo from here
Photo from here

Graffiti Tour

Melbourne is widely known as one of the world’s great cities for street art (and some grafitti). We spent a whole day wondering around the city in search of street art — there are pieces everywhere and a couple of famous alleyways covered in street art. IMG_0720There was also an exhibition going on called the Art of Banksy while we were in Melbourne. For those unfamiliar with Banksy, the famous and anonymous street artist, he is a big deal in the world of street art. He is known for pieces with political and social commentary and most famously for his art featured on public surfaces all over the world. The exhibition featured some of his prints, and the story on his life and art. The exhibition is NOT authorized by Banksy (and may have made him a bit mad), but it was cool to see some of his work in person.

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On Traveling in English Speaking Countries

 It has been really awesome to visit countries that speak English as their primary language. Traveling to places where English is spoken has never excited me. When I travel across the world I have always wanted to feel like I was transported to somewhere very different. I was wrong. Traveling in places where they speak your language allows you to fully immerse yourself in a culture better since there is more overlap of culture and we can directly communicate, ask questions, and understand everything around us.

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I still think I prefer to travel places that the cultural differences, language barrier, and food are very different from my own, but countries that speak English now really excite me. I have a whole new perspective and I am excited to visit other English speaking countries in the future. It has been a great month in places we can fully understand everything and everyone. Not only has it been a nice break from struggling with language barriers all the time, but we also felt that we were able to connect with people more.

Asian Food

All of the cities in Australia we visited had the best Asian food, probably based on proximity to Asia and large Asian populations in these cities. Even after spending so long in Asia, I think that we may never be tired of Asian food. We had ramen two nights in a row (we might have a problem) and I ate the best bahn mi sandwich I have ever had (as I write this we have already been to Vietnam and eaten our fair share of them — the one at the shop outside of Melbourne is still better). I can get behind any city with this much delicious food!

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The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 5

Languages: English (!)

Currency: $1 USD = $1.33 Australian Dollar (AUD)

Number of Miles Traveled:  2,138 (including our flight from Christchurch)

Number of Miles Walked: 39 miles (average of 7.7 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  82,895 steps (average of about 16,579 per day)

Transportation Used: Rental car, taxi, Uber X

Type of Accommodations: Hotel (1)

Number of Beds: 1

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